The director of the third film in the franchise talks about his new film, more Mummy films and future proects
Rob Cohen certainly has two pedigrees going for him that made him ideal to take on the directing efforts for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Deember 16. The first pedigree being an extensive background in action films (See: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, The Fast and the Furious andxXx) and the second being a deep respect and love for Chinese history and culture, both of which were a perfect match for this flick that moves the franchise from Egypt to China. I had the chance to speak with Cohen over the phone about this new DVD and here's what he had to say.
First of all, how did you first become involved in this threequel?
Rob Cohen: Well, I was asked by my agent to read the script on behalf of the producers. I said, 'You know, I don't really do sequels to my own films, let alone somebody else's.' He said, 'No, listen. They really want you because this whole movie takes place in China.' I'm such a Chinese history and culture buff, that immediately my ears perked up. When I read it, I thought there was a really terrific fantasy-adventure movie to be made in China, and it's been my dream to do that, so it came through in a very unlikely direction.
Yeah. I was going to say that many of your movies have gone on to sequels, but you haven't done any of them. It was kind of odd to see you take on a sequel for something that you weren't originally involved with.
Rob Cohen: Well, it was fun because, in some ways, you're building on a platform that Stephen Sommers has created, and I wanted to make it a movie that would both honor the first two previous movies but also take the whole thing to another level. It was a wonderful adventure for me and everybody connected to the film to make such a big movie in China.
You had said you were such a big Chinese historical buff. What kinds of things did you look into, when you were researching the time period and stuff like that, during pre-production?
Rob Cohen: Well, a lot. You know, I wrote and directed Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, so I've been going and making movies in Asia for awhile. I also did a television series over there called Vanishing Son that we did over there in Hong Kong and Makao. The first step was to go to make a ceremonial stop in Beijing to talk to the government about our idea. Then we went to Xi'an, to see their real Terracotta Army. Most of the research was, of course, about the Quin Dynasty, the dynasty that was the era of the first emperor of China, which is the character that Jet Li has played.
So is most of this historically accurate, or is it mostly a backdrop?
Rob Cohen: No, no, no. It's REALLY historically accurate. What I wanted to do was, here's this guy that united all of China, by the sword, who then realized, about the time he was 40, that he was never going to live long enough to rule it and do everything he wanted to do. He became obsessed with the quest for immortality and started to travel around China, looking for the answer. Ultimately, he ended up taking so many potions and stuff, looking to be immortal, that he probably died from the arsenic and heavy metals in what he was drinking.
So you obviously had Brendan (Fraser) attached right away. How was it like working with Brendan and Jet Li for the first time, especially with Brendan being attached to the series for the duration?
Rob Cohen: Well, when I got back from China, my first thing was to go to Brendan's home in Connecticut. I went to tell him how I was going to make this different, and what parts were going to be the same and how, basically, there was no Mummy without him and that I really really wanted him to come back. He and I got along from our first meeting, and that relationship only deepened. He's just one of the great gentlemen in the acting world. He's asweet, hard-working, very carefully thought-out performer. My adoration really grew even larger as we worked together, because it was just a good team. He could count on me and I could count on him and we just really had a very easy time and a very stimulating time. About Jet, I had talked to Jet about being in a movie I was going to do at Sony at the time called The 8th Voyage of Sinbad. He's a practicing Buddhist and I'm a practicing Buddhist and we got along on a level of a kind of spirituality and everything else. Working with these two men was a deep experience in different ways. It was challenging in different ways and, in the end, I think we brought out a very entertaining cocktail that I was trying to shake up.
It seems like Luke Ford is really on the rise. There were even rumors that the next Mummy films will be centered around his character. How did you like working with Luke?
Rob Cohen: With Luke, you have the beauty of a young performer who has lots of energy and you also have the challenges of a young performer which is, you know, they're usually all over the place. They don't know the rhythmns of big-time Hollywood feature films. It was very interesting because Brendan liked to bring it fast and early in the process and Luke took longer, so we were always trying to balanace Brendan's power with Luke's power. You might get a great thing from Brendan on Take 2, but it might take until Take 7 for Luke to get in the right place, so it's interesting how you have to adjust everybody's rhythmns and your own rhythmn to make the best ensemble work.
One of the underlying stories here was Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh finally getting to fight.
Rob Cohen: Yeah, yeah. That was exciting. I had decided that I wanted to do it as a balletic sword-fight that would sort of showcase the physical beauty of the performers, as opposed to brutality or too much hand-to-hand combat. I just wanted it to have poetry, so that's the way I acted.
It seemed there was a lot of practical effects, like the part where Jet Li's hands were on fire, his hands were actually on fire, as opposed to CGI. How much of the practical effects did you guys use? Did you try to balance it out with the CGI?
Rob Cohen: As I was starting with Dragonheart, my film in 1994, I've been into the CG world, but I think that the audience can barely tell the difference between CG and practical. Vic Armstrong and I tried to do as many of the stunts with the real actors as we could, and finding ways like this new cold-fire technique. I did it on myself and you get about 8 seconds where you don't feel the heat and then it really ramps up very quickly. You know, you've gotta be very quick with it, but I think it helps all the sequences seem more real. It helps the CG if you can do as much of it as you can in camera.
So have you been approached to do any future Mummy films? We heard awhile ago that they might be looking to Luke Ford to lead the way in the rest of these films. Have you heard any talk on that so far?
Rob Cohen: No, you know, studios usually don't talk about sequels until after the DVD comes out. They see how that does and that tells them a lot about how loyal the audience is to the film. I guess we'll have to hold our breath, one more stop on the journey.
So would you be interested in taking on a fourth film?
Rob Cohen: Oh, of course. To revisit the cast, more than anything. To be back in cahoots with those people would be something that I would find a lot of fun. There's just a lot of talent in that cast and there's always more to do and more to try and more to present to the audience.
So is there anything that you're eyeing up right now or anything that you're going into production with soon?
Rob Cohen: Well, I'm working on the new XXX: The Return of Xander Cage right now with Vin (Diesel) and Sony. I've got a bunch of different things in the offing. I had triplets nine months ago, so I wanted to chart out some time to spend with them as they're growing up, so I wasn't really looking forward to going into another movie. So, now I've been home for a few months... and I want to get back on a set more (Laughs). I've been shooting commercials. I just shot a new one for Chase Bank. One of those is on the air already. So I've just been doing the smaller projects and looking for what the next one will be.
So there are quite a wealth of features on the DVD. Is there any particular feature we should look out for on this?
Rob Cohen: I think that the DVD and the Blu-ray, to me, are the end product that you're really trying to get to, because it's going to be heard the way it was meant. It's not going to be in some movie theater with the subwoofers turned off, or the surround dampened. It's not going to be projected with a bulb that's turned down to save money. I'm trying to put so much information on the DVD and Blu-ray, that you have an experience, seeing how the film was made and what we did and how the film resulted in what it is. You're sharing the experience of the journey that we're taking there and you see the point-of-view of many people on that process so that if you're a film lover, you get this dimension, if you're a film student, you get this dimension and you just feel, when buy the DVD, you have the authoritative version, as opposed to something that's an afterthought of the theatrical release.
Finally, for those who might not have caught it in theaters, what would you like to say to the fans out there to entice them to pick this up before the holidays?
Rob Cohen: It would be the best stocking stuffer you could give anybody. For the amount of money that it costs, and the amount of information, entertainment and the imagination that's in there, it's a good deal. Remember my triplets and send them to college.
Excellent. Well that's about all I have for you today. Thank you so much for your time today, Rob.
Rob Cohen: Thank you.
You can catch all the action and excitement of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor when it hits the DVD and Blu-ray shelves on December 16.